Games, games and more games I

For the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to incorporate games into my translation courses: last term, I asked my Theory of Translation Students to try making their own games, which we played in conjunction with a Reacting-to-the-Past-inspired game related to the drafting of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian Standard for Translation.

So this year, I wanted to see whether I could create games for some of the other classes I teach, and I started off with my introductory translation into English course, where students are expected to acquire translation strategies, increase their knowledge of research tools and learn how to resolve translation problems. With these aims in mind, I created a series of 10 games, and we played a different one almost every week of the course. Most took somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes to complete. Each had different rules and aimed to develop a different combination of translation skills: In some games, students competed in teams, while in others they worked individually; sometimes, students competed against one another, but in other cases, they competed against an external foe (such as a published translation). Some games were designed to develop documentation skills (e.g. learning to use online tools and reference materials), some aimed to help students improve their ability to work under pressure, and quite a few focused on specific translation challenges (e.g. wordplay) or specific types of texts (e.g. comics).

After the course was over, I surveyed my students to see what they thought of the games (and the leaderboard where everyone could see their progress). I’ll be talking about the games and the survey results later this month at the CATS conference in Calgary, and then in July at the PACTE conference in Barcelona. I try not to repeat in my blog things that I’ve already said at conferences or in publications, so this post won’t cover the survey results. Instead, I wanted to write two complementary blog posts: one that talks about the game students enjoyed the most, and another that discusses the game they enjoyed the least. Today, I’m starting off with the game most students identified as their favourite.

The Twitter Race

Four weeks into our twelve-week course, we played a game I called “The Twitter Race.” Before we began, I reviewed some of Twitter’s conventions and constraints, just in case students weren’t familiar with the platform (e.g. tweets must be 140 characters or less, URLs and images are included in the character count but require a maximum of 23 characters, hashtags are commonly included in tweets). I also showed a few examples of translated tweets from bilingual organizations like the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Students then had to break up into groups or partners, since not everyone in the class brings a laptop and this activity required access to a shared Google Document. Each team chose a Twitter handle (e.g. @GoTeam1), and then worked together over six rounds to translate a total of six tweets. I used PowerPoint slides to project each tweet to the class and describe the context in which it was being translated:

Sample Twitter Race instruction

For each tweet, the teams had a few minutes to collaborate and then add their translations to a shared Google Document (signing their submissions with their twitter handles so we could tell which team was responsible for which translation). Once all the translations were submitted, I gave feedback on each version and awarded points in the following way:

Requirement Points
First to submit a complete translation 1 point
Shortest translation 2 points
Translation includes a relevant hashtag (e.g. #onpoli) 1 point per hashtag
Translation includes a relevant Twitter handle

(e.g. @radioCanadaInfo)

1 point per handle

I updated a Google Speadsheet with the points after every round and posted the results to the course website so the teams could see where they stood. At the end of six rounds, the team with the most points was declared the winner. A lot of strategizing took place: one team, for instance, was less interested in being the first to get their translations in because they wanted to have the shortest version and as many hashtags and twitter handles as possible. They ended up accumulating 33 points and winning the game.

Why did this game work well? Although the students who responded to the survey didn’t comment on why they liked the game, their comments on how the games could be improved in the future (more on that in my next post) have led me to some of my own conclusions. First, this game took about an hour and a half to play (including the time for establishing groups, going over the rules, etc.), but each of the tweets we translated presented a different challenge: some were almost 140 characters long and would therefore be harder to keep under the character limit; some had several hashtags or twitter handles that might need to be adapted; some were supposedly being translated by the same person who had posted the original tweet, while others were supposedly being retweeted by another user for a different purpose, etc. This meant that students had to adopt different translation strategies each round. Second, the students had to work under low-stakes pressure: each group was conscious that another group might post their translation first (and therefore win 1 point), but they also wanted to make sure they had a short translation and relevant hashtags, so they were constantly trying to translate quickly and succinctly. The stakes were low, though, because the students’ performance in the games was extremely unlikely to affect their final grade in the course since 90% of the course grade was based on assignments and tests, and the 10% set aside for in-class participation was based largely on attendance and homework rather than performance in the games. Finally, we were able to spend about 15 minutes setting up the game–that is, going over the rules, reviewing the context in which tweets might be translated, and thinking about the constraints Twitter users work with. This helped students feel more comfortable with the game before it started.

In my next post, which I hope to be able to write later this month, I’ll talk about one of the less successful games and why it didn’t work as well as this one.

More than 2000 words about translation and translators added to Wikipedia

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this year, my undergraduate Theory of Translation students wrote 500-word Wikipedia articles on translation-related topics as one of their course assignments. About two thirds of the class opted to cover one of these topics instead of creating a game for us to play, so Wikipedia now has half a dozen new (or significantly expanded) articles profiling Canadian translators, professional translator associations, term bases and more.

Although I’ve incorporated Wikipedia translation projects into my courses before, I’d never assigned a Wikipedia writing project. However, I’ve been working with The Wiki Education Foundation for a few years now, and I’ve seen what other instructors have done with their Wikipedia assignments. I also have a good idea of what features a good Wikipedia article should include, so I gave my students the following goals to achieve:

Final Wikipedia articles should:

Not every article that was written made it into Wikipedia, mainly due to the extensions I gave for the assignment: with many students submitting their articles close to the end of the term, I wasn’t able to mark everything until after the semester was over. Next year, I’ll have students submit their first drafts as mid-term assignments, and then have a follow-up assignment requiring students to revise their articles and post them to Wikipedia before the end of the term. This will make sure that the articles are revised and published to Wikipedia within the 12-week time frame of our course.

Interested in seeing some of the newly created or significantly expanded articles? Her are a few that are now available:

An experiment with student-led translation games

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been integrating two Reacting to the Past-themed games into my undergraduate theory of translation class for the past three years. While I’ve found the games a helpful way to have students participate in discussions, delve into complex theoretical texts, and learn about the historical context in which translation decisions are made, I wanted to try something a little different this term. In an effort to have students take a more active role in choosing the topics of our in-class debates, I played only one of the Reacting to the Past-themed games with my class and added an assignment entitled “Invent-a-Game”, where students were invited to develop a game that would:

  • Take about 30-45 minutes to play together in class
  • Focus on one of our weekly topic
  • Engage everyone in the class by finding a way for all students to participate
  • Help the class critically engage with the topic at hand
  • Include references to texts and real-world examples that were not listed on the syllabus

This assignment was experimental: It was the first time I’d asked students to create a game, and because I wasn’t sure how well it would work out, I offered students the option of preparing a 500-word Wikipedia article instead, if they preferred. This way, only students who were enthusiastic about developing a game would opt to do so, and I’d be able to decide whether the Invent-a-Game assignment should be included again next year (with or without modifications), or scrapped altogether. About a third of the class decided to prepare a game, while the other two thirds opted for the Wikipedia assignment instead (and I’ll have more to say about that in my next blog post).

Now that the semester is over, I can safely say that the Invent-a-Game assignment was largely successful: students were very engaged in playing the games, and the groups that did develop a game had very creative ideas for incorporating practical translation exercises, discussions, debates, and examples that were related to the themes we had been exploring in class. Here’s one example of a particularly successful game:

The Censorship Mini-Games
On Week 10, two students presented a game focusing on translation and censorship. They split the class into three teams and then played four mini-games, which the teams chose by spinning a colourful (and very sparkly) arrow to see where it landed: ballin’, a mini-game where one team was tossed a Styrofoam ball decorated with debate questions and then had to prepare either the “for” or “against” side of whichever debate question was face up when they caught the ball, need for speed, a mini-game where all three teams had to compete to see who could come up with the most answers to a question in the allotted time, pick-a-stick, a mini-game in which one team member chose a popsicle stick with a word or phrase and then had to work with their team to prepare an answer to a discussion question related to this word/phrase, and yay or nay, a mini-game where the game inventors read a contentious passage from a translation studies book or article and the teams had to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

When designing their game, this group prepared not only physical props including the oversize spin wheel, the Styrofoam ball with debate questions and thumbs-up/thumbs-down cards for the yay or nay mini-game, but also digital props like PowerPoint slides with images and examples to contextualize the discussion questions in the pick-a-stick and need for speed mini-games. For instance, when a student chose a popsicle stick with the word “healthcare” on it, the accompanying PowerPoint slide reminded students of the ethical dilemma discussed in Andrew Clifford’s article “Healthcare Interpreting and Informed Consent” (which we had read six weeks ago) and linked the issue with censorship so the team could more effectively prepare their response to the discussion question. Although the mini-games involved competitions between the teams, everyone in the class won an ample supply of the chocolate, candy and bubblegum rewards provided by the students who had developed the game.

Trying out student-led games this year has convinced me that games can be a viable alternative to student presentations in the classroom. I will definitely integrate the Invent-a-Game assignment into my Theory of Translation course again next year: I’ll incorporate more game-design resources into the curriculum, share some examples of the games that were developed this year, and spread the games out over the entire semester so students have a wider selection of topics to choose from.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging more about games in translation courses, as I’m working out some ideas for integrating game components into my introductory translation course this winter. But in the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone else who has experimented with games and gaming in their translation classes: was one game technique particularly successful? Would you do anything differently next time? How have students reacted?

Research Methodologies in Translation Studies

This semester, I’m teaching our newly created, MA-level Research Methods in Translation Studies course (more on that in a future post), so Gabriela Saldanha and Sharon O’Brien’s recent book, Research Methodologies in Translation Studies (St. Jerome, 2013/Routledge, 2014), couldn’t have come at a better time.

While I was deciding how to organize the course, I leaned heavily on the structure of the book, which opens with a chapter on principles and definitions, and then delves into product-oriented, process-oriented, participant-oriented, and context-oriented research before ending with a section about how to structure a research paper. With only six chapters (excluding the introduction), it doesn’t align perfectly with a 12-week course, but some of the topics it covers in a single chapter (e.g. product-oriented research) can certainly be split into two or even three class sessions, with students exploring, say, critical discourse analysis one week and corpus linguistics the next.

In terms of content, the chapters offer exactly what I was looking for: comprehensive overviews of the research methods at hand, discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and brief reviews of key publications. The section on process-oriented research, for instance, covers introspection, key-stroke logging and eye-tracking methods. The authors explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, consider the various challenges involved in collecting and analyzing data using these methods, and briefly discuss the research questions that have already been tackled by TS scholars. Particularly helpful were the references to the hardware/software most commonly used to do this kind of research (e.g. keystroke logging software Translog, which I was familiar with, and eye-tracker developer Tobii, which I was not).

When Magdalena Bartlomiejczyka reviewed Research Methodologies in Translation Studies for the Translator and Interpreter Trainer earlier this year, she noted that the book was probably too advanced for BA- or MA-level researchers. I certainly agree that BA students would likely be intimidated by the breadth of research methods covered here; this semester, for example, many of my undergraduate students felt overwhelmed by the quantity of information in the “Quality of Translation” entry from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, so I imagine that reading through some of the details in this book would have much the same effect on them, given that they haven’t yet been exposed to much translation theory and research.

I do, though, think that MA-level students (and PhDs too, of course) would find this book helpful: in general, it is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and for students who are unsure of the kinds of research they would like to do, the book gives them a good idea of the possibilities available to them, as well as the challenges they will likely face when they actually start their projects. I didn’t assign this book as a required textbook in my MA class this year, because instead I wanted my students to read journal articles as examples of research projects that use the methods in question, but as I’ve been preparing lecture and discussion materials, there is little I’ve needed to simplify for my students, and much that I might have otherwise overlooked.

The book is not primarily intended as a textbook for teaching research methods (or at least the authors do not specifically mention instructors when describing the intended audience), so it does not include related pedagogical exercises for the classroom. I’d have liked these, even if the exercises were offered only in a companion website rather than the book itself. Nonetheless, exercises are easy enough to develop based on the existing content: Saldanha and Brien offer, for instance, many examples of the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting various kinds of research projects. Instructors can easily look to these examples when designing related problem-solving activities. (E.g. Having students work in groups to brainstorm responses to questions like: “What tools would help you effectively study the working process of translators in a busy, open-plan office?” or “How would you design a corpus to ensure it is representative of a wide range of literary translations?”). In short, I think both instructors and researchers (whether they are novices looking for an overview of existing research methods or more experienced researchers looking to adopt a new methodology) will find the book a helpful introduction to the kinds of Translation Studies research that can be done, the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting this research, and the ways these challenges can be addressed.

Translation flows in English Wikipedia

My summer project this year involves Wikipedia again. I’ve already studied the motivations and profiles of Wikipedia translators as well as revision trends in translated Wikipedia articles, so I’m now moving on to tracking translation flows in English Wikipedia. The things I’ll be looking at include how the demand for translation from any of the 290 Wikipedia languages into English has changed over time, how this demand matches up with Wikipedia activity in those languages, how often translations from a given language are flagged for revision, how these revision requests change over time, how often translated articles in need of revision are deleted and why, and whether the change in the number of active users mirrors the changes in translation activity over time.

Are these questions important? I would argue that they’re worth studying for various reasons, but mainly because the discourse about crowdsourcing often emphasizes that the diverse backgrounds of the volunteers who participate in crowdsourced translation initiatives means that translations from and into “exotic” languages can take place and may even be more frequent than in traditional translation projects, where the cost of localizing a website into a language with just a few thousand speakers would be prohibitive (see this interview with Twitter’ Engineering manager Gaku Ueda, for instance). So it’s worth asking questions like whether some languages are prioritized over others and whether some have more activity than others. The answer is likely “yes” in both cases, but if we look at which languages are receiving the most attention, we might be surprised by the results. After all, the five largest Wikipedias, based on the number of articles available in each version, are currently English, Swedish, German, Dutch and French, in that order, but just one year ago, Swedish was ranked 8th. Swedish Wikipedia is not, of course, comprised solely of articles translated from other languages, but the fact that it currently has more articles (and far fewer native speakers) than say German or French led me to wonder whether more translations are flowing into and out languages like Swedish, which are typically less well represented online than languages like English, Chinese and Spanish.

I’m not very far into this project yet, so I don’t have much data to share, but here’s a graph of the demand for translation from French into English, Spanish into English and German into English. I compiled the data using the current Category:Articles needing translation from French [or Spanish or German] Wikipedia page and comparing it with previous versions approximately every six months for the last six years, based on data from in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. (The gap in both the Spanish and German versions exists because the Wayback Machine did not crawl these two pages in 2010).

Number of pages listed in the Category:Articles needing translation from [French, Spanish or German] Wikipedia pages, 2009-2015.

Number of pages listed in the Category:Articles needing translation from [French, Spanish or German] Wikipedia pages, 2009-2015.

As the graph shows, requests for translation into English from French, Spanish or German have increased substantially over the past six years. From what I’ve seen so far, French seems to be an anomaly, because the number of articles listed as being good candidates for translation varied widely, sometimes increasing or decreasing by 1000 in just six months. These numbers don’t tell us much yet, but I’ll be digging into them more over the summer: I want to see, for instance, how long it takes for an article to be removed from the list and whether demand for translation from English into these languages is similar. This could help explain whether the number of articles listed as needing translation is increasing because little translating is taking place and a backlog of translations is accumulating, whether it is increasing because Wikipedians are becoming more interested in translation and are therefore adding articles to the lists more frequently now than in the past, whether articles are being translated and are simply not being removed from the list, causing demand for translation to appear inflated, etc. I hope to have more to share soon.

In the meantime, I’d certainly welcome any comments on the project, or thoughts on translation in Wikipedia!

How do you translate “expulsé” or “chanson”? Another Wikipedia challenge

“I realize now why professors say ‘don’t use Wikipedia'”, one of my students remarked during a group presentation about the challenges of translating a Wikipedia article from French into English. Once again, I had assigned Wikipedia articles as a final translation assignment for the 22 students enrolled in Introduction to Translation into English this past winter. This student’s remark came about after the group became frustrated with the French article’s lack of sources and occasionally promotional tone. In their final translation, they took a 2800-word text about French-Canadian singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe with 21 references and turned it into an 1600-word article with 47 documented sources and a more neutral tone. Another group’s article on reasonable accommodation went from 14 references in the source text to 66 in the English translation.

But references weren’t the only challenges my students faced this year. When they reflected on their projects, one group discussed the trouble they had trying to find the right translation for “la chanson française” as a genre (they finally opted for French chanson, since there is a Wikipedia article with that title), while another group struggled with “expulsé”, as in:

En février 2005, deux ambulanciers ont été expulsés d’une cafétéria de l’Hôpital général juif de Montréal parce qu’ils mangeaient un repas qu’ils s’étaient préparé.

and

Le 24 février 2007, à Laval, une jeune musulmane ontarienne de 11 ans est expulsée d’un match de soccer auquel elle participe et qui réunit de jeunes joueuses canadiennes.

(Both of which came from this article on reasonable accommodation in Quebec)

In this case, they settled for “ejected” in the first example and “sent off” in the second, after consulting various English media reports. A graduate assistant helped me correct these assignments, and since we both recommended different translations, I’d certainly agree with my students that this was a tricky case. In the end, I suggested “asked to leave” for the first example, because it seemed to depict the event in the most neutral way, which is one of Wikipedia’s core content policies.

Most groups took various liberties with their source material, rewriting and reorganizing the article to present information more effectively, remove details that couldn’t be verified, and update details that were several years old. In almost every case, these decisions made the final English articles much better quality than the original French articles, and it helped students look more critically at their source material (as the comment from the student I cited earlier suggests).

Due to a lengthy strike at the university this year, I had to extend the submission deadline for these projects, and consequently had to finish marking the translations long after the term had ended instead of doing so in mid-March. This meant that only a few groups have been dedicated enough to post their final, corrected translations to English over the past few weeks, something that is perfectly understandable given that most students are now working, travelling or taking summer courses and would therefore have trouble finding some free time to revise their work. So I was very happy to see that at least three articles have made it to Wikipedia. Want to check them out? Here they are:

Snippets from the Monterey Forum 2015

I’ve just returned from Monterey, Califonia, where I was at the Education Translators, Interpreters and Localizers in an Evolving World conference at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. As the title suggests, the talks focused on translation and interpreting pedagogy, and I came away with some new ideas after a number of very interesting presentations. Most of the day consisted of parallel sessions, so obviously I wasn’t able to attend everything. I’ll just summarize a few of the talks I particularly enjoyed. I’ve grouped them into three broad categories: those that discussed how to design new course offerings or fundamentally reshape the way a course is offered, those that touched on online teaching, and those that offered ideas or activities that could be integrated into existing translation courses.

Course design

On Saturday morning, I listened to Kayoko Takeda from Rikkyo University in Japan speak about developing a general education course on “Translation and interpretation literacy” for undergraduate students at her university. It focused on topics like the roles translators and interpreters play in society and professional issues translators and interpreters face without actually having students practice translation. What I found most intriguing was the way the course was designed: three instructors co-taught the course, and 14 guest speakers came to the Saturday-morning class to speak about topics like crowdsourcing and machine translation, business practices, subtitling, Bible translation, and community translation. These guest speakers would give students tasks to do before their talks (e.g. consulting a website, reading blog posts or articles), and then students would participate in the lectures, often by producing in-class essays on topics like rules, remuneration and rewards, or technology.

Methods and Activities for Online teaching

Saturday morning and afternoon included several presentations about teaching translation and interpretation in an online environment. Here are some of my favourites:

Suzanne Zeng talked about the University of Hawaii’s Interactive Video Service (HITS), which allows her to teach up to three groups of students simultaneously via an interactive closed-circuit TV system. While Suzanne teaches a group of students in one room, other groups of students at university campuses located on various Hawaiian islands sit in similar classrooms and participate in the class via video. All students have microphones at their desks, and when they push the button to talk, the video cameras are programmed to zoom in on the speakers so everyone else can hear what their peers have to say and see them clearly while they say it. The shared screens also allow everyone to see any PowerPoint presentations the instructor might use, and any notes he or she might write on the white board. I liked the way this system works because instructors can teach both in person and online at the same time. Having all students together simultaneously allows everyone to participate in discussions and group exercises, regardless of which island they might live on. Suzanne did mention that she has to monitor the video feeds while she is teaching so she can make sure the students in the other locations are fully engaged: addressing them directly helps remind these students that she is able to see them and is paying attention to them as well as the students in her classroom. She also noted that the system doesn’t allow for any flexibility in timing: class has to begin and end at a precise time because that’s when the video feed stops and starts; so if she is in the middle of a sentence with just a few seconds left on the counter, she’ll be cut off as soon as the clock reaches zero, and students in the remote locations won’t hear the end of what she had to say. That means instructors need to be very conscious of the clock with a system like this.

Qjinti Oblitas and Andrew Clifford, from my department at York University, offered some insight into how their interpretation students develop close ties with their peers, even though the first year of our Master’s in Conference Interpreting program is offered online. Through a variety of sometimes humourous examples, Qjinti and Andrew showed that students engaged with one another outside of the virtual classroom via private Facebook groups, text messages, Skype chats, and apps like WeChat, and they argued that the students felt a real sense of community with their peers—so much so in fact that many of the students found ways to meet one another in person if they lived in the same country or were travelling to a place near one of their classmates.

Finally, Cristina Silva said that every strategy for offline teaching could be adapted for the online classroom. She offered a variety of examples, some of which I use already, and others that I will consider using in the future—though I should point out that many of these ideas would work just as easily in a face-to-face classroom. Cristina’s suggestions included having students translate together via Google Docs, having students practice editing machine translations while using screen-sharing software so that their classmates can see their results, and encouraging students to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to record themselves while they dictated a sight translation to see whether their productivity increased compared to just typing out the translations themselves.

Activities for the translation classroom

Kent State University’s Erik Angelone offered a new way of having students assess their translation process. Arguing that other process-focused research methods like think-aloud-protocols and keystroke logging were too time consuming or too complicated to integrate into the classroom, Erik proposed using screen recorders like Blueberry Flashback Express to have students record their computer screens while they worked. Then, when students look back at these recordings, they would be able to see, for instance, whether they hesitated before translating a word but did not consult an electronic resource, which might indicate that the translation needs to be double-checked. Integrating screen recordings into the classroom would also allow students to learn from the methods other students or even professional translators had used: how do others deal with distractions like email alerts, for instance? Or how did others research a problematic word or phrase? I thought this was a very helpful idea for getting students to think about how they translate and whether their method could be more effective. One audience member did mention that the disadvantage of screen recordings is that it doesn’t show what students are doing off their computers (e.g. Consulting a paper dictionary), but Erik suggested that students could comment on their screen recordings afterwards in a retrospective interview. Of course, they could comment more informally as well, by adding a few written remarks at the end of their recording to describe any of their research techniques that wouldn’t show up in the screen recording. I’m going to integrate an activity like this into my introductory translation class next term, and after I do, I’ll write a short post about the results.

There were other talks I enjoyed as well, but this post is getting quite long. I think I’ll end with a link to the tweets that came out of the conference, which, though short, give a good overview of a larger selection of talks. You can take a look at the tweet compilation on Storify here.

Teaching Project Management

Until I started this post, I didn’t realize it’s been three months since I’ve blogged. This was partly due to a hectic fall term, so I’m taking advantage of a few relatively quiet weeks to finally write something new. I was inspired, actually, by the fact that I’m doing something different this term: for the first time in three or four years, I took on a course I’ve never taught before. In fact, I’m co-teaching a course we’ve never offered before in our program: Project Management.

Since I spent a few weeks in late December working out the syllabus with my co-instructor, I thought I’d write a brief post about some of our plans for the course. Incidentally, for anyone who might be teaching (or preparing to teach) a course with a project management component, Circuit, the magazine published four times a year by the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec, recently released an issue focusing on project management. Debbie Folaron’s article on what to include in a PM course is very helpful, while many of the others (like this one describing a freelancer’s first experience as a project manager) can serve as case studies in the classroom.

The bulk of the coursework we eventually settled on revolves around two main activities: a group translation project, and a group corporate website. On the first day of class, students formed their groups, which they’ll be working with for the rest of the term. To help them choose their team-mates, I adapted an activity I first heard about from Egan Valentine, who teaches at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. On the train back from a conference at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona last summer, Egan told me about his online class, where students formed groups early in the term by posting profiles of themselves on the discussion forum in much the same way that translators typically do on websites like Translatorscafe.com. So for our class, we spent some time looking at job ads for translators and project managers and brainstorming about the skills these jobs require. Students then had a few minutes to prepare a brief profile of themselves that we could tape onto the classroom walls (don’t worry–I brought in low-tack tape so we wouldn’t ruin the paint), and then they could walk around and browse the profiles to help them choose team members for their mock translation company. Once they finished, each group chose a name for themselves.

Now, the students spend anywhere from a quarter to half the class each week collaborating on activities that range from preparing a quote for a large translation project to working out a revision and review process for their group to follow. In addition, over the course of the semester, students will have time in class to prepare a functional but fictitious website on wordpress.com. Last week, they worked on their About pages, where they discussed their company’s strengths and posted a profile of each team member. In three weeks, after we’ve had a chance to discuss issues like international standards, they’ll prepare a statement about their quality control process. Two weeks after that they’ll add a blog post describing how they’ve handled their translation project, and at the end of the term, they’ll prepare a FAQ page where they can respond to questions a client might ask a translation company, such as who owns the content of translation memories and whether crowdsourcing is a viable solution for a large, multilingual translation project. I’m hoping that these exercises will help them consider the issues faced by project managers while also making them more familiar with a platform like WordPress in case they need to create their own websites when they enter the professional world.

I’ll write another post about the course once it’s finished and I’ve had the chance to reflect on what worked well and what needs improvement. If anyone else has taught a project management course, I’d love to hear about how you run the class.

Translation internships

This past June, I attended a conference in Edmonton that focused on Canadian labour and social movements. Although I enjoyed the conference quite a bit and was particularly intrigued with how academics, labour unions, social activists (and even a few “trouble makers”) gathered together at the same event to share research, stories, and calls to action, I didn’t blog about it earlier because it wasn’t a translation-focused event. (My talk, which was about how and why Left-leaning Canadians translated Quebec sovereignty texts into English in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was the only one that looked at translation). Yet the conference did lead me to carefully consider (and sometimes reconsider) various social issues that are relevant to translation. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll know, of course, that crowdsourcing, and the ethics of crowdsourcing in particular, is one of my research interests, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the conference had me once again pondering the effects of unpaid or underpaid labour on the translation profession. But later, as the new academic year started and I took over our various internships programs, I started to also think about ethical questions related to internships for translation students.

The problem that I wrestle with as I try to find internships is that generally, I can’t offer an internship to every student who applies for one. This is usually because although many Toronto-area translation companies have been generously taking on interns for a number of years, many smaller companies and individual translators (who make up a large portion of the translation market) find working with an intern difficult to coordinate: how, for instance, can they be sure they will have work for the intern every week? How will supervising an intern fit into their schedules, which might be full due to travel and other commitments? Since there are only so many large translation service providers who might be able to accommodate a intern or two, this leaves me having more students than internships nearly every term.

And this problem is actually more complex, because although about half of our internships are paid, the other half are not, leaving students who cannot afford to do unpaid work unable to take advantage of an opportunity to get more translation experience, and leaving me with the problem of offering paid work to some students and unpaid work to others. These kinds of challenges (unpaid internships, and internships that are not available to everyone) are not unique to translation, as this article in Canadian Lawyer demonstrates, but they are something I’ll be spending more time thinking about. I may be overestimating the interest in internships: some students are pursuing a degree in translation without intending to become translators and therefore may not be particularly interested in professional experience in the field. Others may not be concerned about unpaid work because they value the experience an internship provides. To find out more, I plan to survey our students later this year, to see what they think about internships, both paid and unpaid. My hope is that the results will help me feel more confident that the internship programs I coordinate are benefitting as many students as possible, as fairly as possible. I’ll blog more about it when I have some of the results.

In the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing from others who run an internship program: what has your experience been with the internships? What do students think about unpaid work? Are internships mandatory, and therefore equally accessible to everyone? Do you have any ethical concerns about translation internships? If so, do you have any ideas about how to address these concerns?

Summer breaks and productivity

After presenting papers at three conferences in St. Catharines, Edmonton, and Barcelona in May, June and July, I spent the past two months on activities largely unrelated to my research, teaching or translating. I read six novels (more than I’ve managed to read in the last three years combined). I repainted parts of the house. I weeded and watered the vegetable garden in our backyard. And I spent a lot of time at playgrounds, splash pads and parks with my children. I did finish correcting two other articles that will soon appear in print, but aside from a book review, I didn’t submit any new texts to journals. In short, I’ve enjoyed the past two months, which were the first extended break I’ve taken from academic activities in several years.

And yet, I’ve still wrestled with the thought that I should be more productive. From time to time, I’ve wondered whether I will regret not getting further along in the survey I’m designing to find out more about what our undergraduate students think about internships. On more than one occasion, I got annoyed that I hadn’t returned to the major research project I’ve been tackling on and off for the past three years. I should be transcribing interviews! Visiting archives! Blogging! And, as the start of the Fall term has drawn closer, I’ve regretted not having the syllabi for all three courses completely finalized.

But working just one day a week for the past eight weeks has taught me that I can spend part of my summer break finishing off just the most pressing tasks without dire consequences. And in those moments when twinges of guilt did make themselves felt, I asked myself whether I would rather my children think of me as the mother who published a thirteenth article this summer, or as the mother who helped them make popsicles with the raspberries from our garden, who guided them through making a jar of pesto with our basil leaves, who showed them how to toss a salad made from the tomatoes that just a few months ago were tiny seeds in our kitchen. I’ll work on that thirteenth article in the fall, and it probably won’t matter at all that I didn’t start it sooner. In fact, I may even try this again next year.